Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana theatre students immerse into “The Stacks”

Shadab Ahmed
Junior Anya Giordano, as Sam Hawkins, and Bradley Robert Jensen, as a college professor, act in The Stacks: An Immersive Mystery.

At Moline’s Sound Conservatory, an immersive show removed the divide between actor and audience. Offered Feb. 22 to March 2, Director Ben Gougeon’s production of “The Stacks” offered no seating for the audience, instead opting for a walk through three levels: upstairs, main floor and the basement.

After prefacing the show with an overview of etiquette and expectations, audience members were allowed to explore the set and characters freely, being guided into neutral areas should they venture too far through the fourth wall.  

The date is set Sept. 25, 1957, in St. Bernard’s catholic college library. Both Sam Hawkins, played by junior Anya Giordano, and the present day investigator who is solving her murder over six decades later can be found here.  

Although there is never an interaction between audience members and actors, the audience does get to immerse themselves within the story that gives them the illusion that they are part of the plot. This is reinforced through the storytelling, as the audience is in the present time with the investigator, yet they also get to experience time back in 1957 with the rest of the characters.  

When the production started, there were actors in different rooms throughout the levels of the space. In the basement there were rooms that contained items that would have been popular during the time period; a photo room with hanging pictures and photo negatives, a laundry room with old tide posters hanging on a clothesline, a janitor’s room that had unfinished projects waiting and a bookshelf that would contain clues of the mystery.  

Both the main floor and the upstairs were the library settings with books spread sparingly enough through cases to leave space for both actors and audience members to engage with the plot at different angles. Observers could look throughout the props for clues and written segments.

On the main floor, the most important area was the present day investigator’s workspace. The desk had photos, letters, notes and a large map that had traces the investigator had discovered about the murder of Sam Hawkins.

Gougeon found the Sound Conservatory, formerly the Moline Public Library and wanted to make use of the area. 

Creating an immersive experience was a highlight for him and he wanted to bring that experience to the Quad Cities.

“I was involved with immersive theatre during my time in NYC, and there are immersive theatre experiences popping up all around the country,” Gougeon said. “As a result of this show, I’ve had lots of people talk to me about possible collaboration at other venues, so it’s only a matter of time.”

The plot of “The Stacks” follows a college student deciding whether she should abide by society’s norm of getting married and starting a family or follow her desires of making her own way through life. 

The audience also follows two closeted men fighting the comfort of hiding their feelings to display their love for one another in public. 

Not only do both plots push back on society’s ideals, but they create tension revolving around identity. 

Senior Roger Pavey Jr., assistant director and stage manager, was approached by Gougeon without having much knowledge about immersive theatre. Pavey was able to grasp onto the idea quickly when it came to the collaboration process with the crew and cast. 

“Getting to watch the audience experience the production every night never got old,” Pavey said. “I saw the excitement for the action taking place, intrigue in the plot, varying levels of attentiveness in what was going on and willingness to explore and be a part of the experience.”

Sophomore Alice Sylvie played the frenemy in this production, and she said that the amount of pieces and the guidance of everyone allowed her to be a part of a new experience.

“I fell in love with the set, atmosphere and the free nature of the show. I am very proud of what we created,” Sylvie said. “It was incredible to perform in a space like that. There were so many minute details, and I found something new each time I stepped foot into the space.”  

The collaboration with Augustana’s Theatre Department and the community theatre investment made this show a sellout with the majority of their dates. 

With the playful use of space and blend between cast and audience, “The Stacks” brought new concepts to both the Quad Cities and Augustana theatre students.

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